Mexico-based celebrity couple, actress/singer Lola Ponce and actor Aaron Diaz, celebrate the opening of the new C. Baldwin Hotel in downtown Houston. (Photo by Michelle Watson)
Gloria Gaynor mesmerized the crowd with her disco hits. (Photo by Michelle Watson)
Lynn Wyatt, center, pals around with Houston Texans players Peter Kalambayi. Zach Cunningham, Duke Ejiofor, Jacob Martin, Dylan Cole, Brennan Scarlett, Whitney Mercilus, and Barkevious Mingo at the grand opening of the C. Baldwin Hotel. (Photo by Michelle Watson)
Melissa Compian, Lainie Fritz (Photo by Wilson Parish)
Harper Watters, Becca Cason Thrash (Photo by Michelle Watson)
Saba Jawda, Justin Reid (Photo by Michelle Watson)
Pooja Salhotra, Mary Helen Johns (Photo by Wilson Parish)
Slim Thug, Kayla Jones (Photo by Michelle Watson)
Shannon Hall, Elizabeth Petersen (Photo by Michelle Watson)
Theresa Roemer, Monteque (Photo by Michelle Watson)
Chris Cosentino (Photo by Michelle Watson)
Willie D, Kam Franklin, Vonnie Dones (Photo by Michelle Watson)
Travis McShane, Charlotte McShane (Photo by Michelle Watson)
Chandler Mann, Leanna Mann (Photo by Michelle Watson)
Stan Abiassi, Amanda Abiassi (Photo by Michelle Watson)
Deborah Elias, Vivian Wise, Christian Miranda (Photo by Michelle Watson)
Kara Smith, Jailyn Marcel, Faren Kennedy at the C. Baldwin Hotel opening (Photo by Michelle Watson)
Natalie Chambers, Michael Chabala (Photo by Wilson Parish)
Bruce Wiles, Pierce Bush, Shai Zelering (Photo by Michelle Watson)
The Suffers performed before an enthusiastic crowd at the opening of the C. Baldwin Hotel. (Photo by Michelle Watson)
Trent Hrncir, Romy Mitchell (Photo by Michelle Watson)
DeAndre Hopkins (Photo by Michelle Watson)
Karli Gillum, Lauren Craft (Photo by Wilson Parish)
The lobby bar at the C. Baldwin Hotel (Photo by Michelle Watson)
A longtime downtown Houston hotel newly reimagined for the 21st century opened with a blowout party featuring a cast of thousands, including a marching band, a Mexico celebrity couple, an eclectic blend of local movers and shakers, and a ’70s disco star — all in tribute to one of the city’s most unsung women.
Brookfield Properties, which is redeveloping Allen Center as a downtown destination, pulled out all the stops to celebrate the opening of the C. Baldwin Hotel, named for Charlotte Baldwin Allen, who used her inheritance to finance much of the city’s early growth in the 19th century. Some longtime Houstonians compared it to the raucous opening of the Shamrock Hotel in 1949, which was immortalized in the classic movie, Giant.
“We recognized, when we were ready to make our mark on Houston, we had to create something as big and bold as the city itself,” said Jennifer Rutkowski, Brookfield’s vice president Hospitality. “We need to make Charlotte proud!”
The opening drew a large and eclectic crowd that included social figures Lynn Wyatt, Becca Cason Thrash, and Vivian Wise, Houston rappers Slim Thug and Willie D, a large contingent of Houston Texans players including DeAndre Hopkins, Justin Reid, Whitney Mercilus, DJ Reader, Peter Kalambayi, Zach Cunningham, Duke Ejiofor, Jacob Martin, Dylan Cole, Brennan Scarlett, and Barkevious Mingo, professional boxers Miguel Flores and Pablo Cruz, and Mexico-based celebrity couple, actor Aaron Diaz and singer/actress Lola Ponce.
The mix of attendees also ranged from Texas Medical Center CEO Bill McKeon and Houston City Controller Chris Brown to scenesters Lauren Craft, Matt Johns, Jose Solis, James Glassman, Saba Jawda, Kara Smith, Christian Miranda, Jonathan Beitler, Michael Chabala, Neera Patidar and Amanda Abiassi.
To get the party started, the McNeese State University marching band and a bevy of models in tight jeans and black T-shirts greeted guests at the entrance to the hotel, which was decorated with a big pink neon sign with the words, “You Made It.” A lobby wall emblazoned with the phrase “Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History” became a focal point for cell phone photos.
Guests sipped a variety of drinks in the spacious lobby bar and the greenery-filled outdoor patio and stopped in to Rosalie’s restaurant, where Top Chef Masters winner Chris Cosentino and executive chef Sasha Grumman prepared an array of edibles. Upstairs, chefs took part in interactive food demonstrations, preparing seasoned mozzarella and pulled-pork sandwiches on the spot, while engaging in conversations with the crowd.
While some guests had their fortunes told on the outdoor patio, servers passed around wood-fired pizza in boxes for the ravenous crowd and prepared drinks in classic tumblers instead of champagne flutes. “We wanted to be a little more approachable and real as opposed to being super fancy, ” says Ilan Segal, whose Miami-based firm Soulity consulted with Brookfield on the branding of the new hotel and the party.
Everything came to a standstill when disco diva Gloria Gaynor appeared on the lobby stage and electrified the crowd with a string of her greatest hits, including “I Will Survive,” “I Am What I Am,” and “Never Can Say Goodbye.” Houston Ballet stars Harper Watters and Oliver Halkowich, and deputy assistant director of the Mayor’s Office of Special Events Debbi Elliott-Griffith were among those on the front row who danced and sang every word along with Gaynor.
“We wanted it to be a fun party where everybody’s in a good mood. Who better than Gloria Gaynor?,” Segal says. “So many people relate to ‘I Will Survive’ and so many of her other great songs. We thought it was a natural choice that relates to the Charlotte Baldwin story.”
Originally opened as the-state-of-art Meridian Hotel in 1980, the building was most recently a DoubleTree by Hilton before Brookfield set out to liven up the Allen Center by creating a boutique hotel that is now part of the Curio Collection by Hilton. “We felt the bones (of the building) were incredible. We needed to bring it back to life and reimagine it in a different way,” Segal says.
The 354 rooms got a makeover from Lauren Rottet of Houston-based Rottet Studio, who also designed the hotel’s public spaces, while Philadelphia-based Kate Rohrer of Rohe Creative designed the food and beverage interiors. Fourteen of the corner guest rooms include Peloton bikes for those who want to work out in private and all rooms feature photos of “modern day Charlottes” by Houston photographer Elizabeth Conley.
The Allen Center complex is named for Augustus Chapman Allen and his brother, John Kirby Allen, who officially co-founded Houston in 1836. Charlotte Baldwin Allen was the wife of Augustus Allen, but her place in Houston’s history has been understated until now.
“The Allen Brothers always get all of the credit (for founding Houston). Charlotte was so instrumental but, unfortunately back then women were just not allowed to sign the deed. That’s why our logo is just a dot where you sign your name. We talk about making your mark. We wanted to pay homage to that and bring her story to life, her story,” Segal says.
The hotel also includes a branch of the trendy Sloan/Hall boutique, highlighting Texas designers. The new store was a popular stopping-in point during the evening as owners Marcus Sloan and Shannon Hall welcomed such chic shoppers as Duyen and Marc Nguyen, Caroline Starry, Chau Nguyen, and Jenny Moore.
Spotted in the party throng were Pierce Bush, Gigi Huang, Mary Benton, Linda Lorelle, Ernie Manouse, Isiah Carey, Miya Shay, Suffers lead singer Kam Franklin, Brandon Weinbrenner, Chu Wai Chan, Ryan Lachaine, Gin Braverman, Cathy Echols, Marnie Greenwood, and C. Baldwin general manager Maggie Rosa.